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be in dire straits
To be in a very bleak or grim situation. All of those recent layoffs indicate that the company is in dire straits. I was in dire straits there for a while, but I'm feeling much better after my hospital stay.
in dire straits
In a very bleak or grim situation. The recent nosedive in the stock market has left many companies in dire straits. I was in dire straits there for a while, but I'm feeling much better after my hospital stay.
in dire straits
Fig. in a very serious, bad circumstance. We are nearly broke and need money for medicine. We are in dire straits.
A very difficult situation. The noun “strait,” usually in the plural (straits), has been used since the 1600s to mean a dilemma of some kind. One of the earliest pairings with “desperate” was in Harriet Martineau’s The History of England during the Thirty Years’ Peace (1849): “Never were Whig rulers reduced to more desperate straits.” Today the term is used both seriously and ironically, as in “We’re in desperate straits today—the newspaper never arrived.”
dire straits, in
In an awful situation, terrible circumstances. The adjective “dire,” which dates from the mid-1500s, is rarely heard today except in this cliché and one other phrase, dire necessity, which uses it more or less hyperbolically (as, for example, in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s 1836 letter, “The dire necessity of having every window in the house open . . .”). In contrast, the cliché describes a genuine difficulty or danger, as in “The stock-market crash left him in dire straits financially.” Also the name of a British rock band active from 1977 to 1995.
See also: dire